Where The Popsicles Are-58

She’s going to be just fine.

Friday morning. I woke up early, and looked around my room. I took a minute to fire up the in room coffee pot and set it to brewing its marginal coffee, turned on the TV to see if the world had come to an end overnight and I had missed it, lit a cigarette and took a seat by the table to find out that while it hadn’t come to an end, there were wars, rumors of wars, famine, pestilence, and all sorts of mayhem being inflicted on unknown individuals around the world, not to mention there was a rush hour accident on I-94 eastbound that was tying up traffic. Nothing seemed to have changed from the day before.

I took a minute, got up went to the door, opened it slightly and grabbed the complimentary copy of USA Today they leave outside your room every day. A quick glance at the front page confirmed what I had inferred from watching the TV for a short while. We were safe, at this point in time.

Joanie came to my foreground. I wondered how she was doing and if she had gotten any sleep last night. I know when she let me go, she was in pain, and was down about what had taken place in the operating room, or rather what had not taken place. I felt bad for her last night, and I felt the same way this morning.

As a caregiver, my immediate job was to help her get healed up from the surgery, which was a major deal, and then to help her put this whole thing in perspective. I wasn’t sure how I was going to do the latter, except to lean on my experience after the other disappointments she had suffered since that day in May 1996, and that was to let her lead me where she wanted to go. I had found that to be a sound approach, and one that served me well.

Since it was Friday, mercifully, the lobby coffee cart was open. I grabbed a cherry croissant and a mocha and headed up to 7C. I didn’t think Joanie would mind me eating in front of her.

She was awake, and they had changed her clothes, and tried to make her more comfortable. She still had the nose hose in, and that would be in until they thought she would be able to tolerate solid food again. There was still the Foley catheter draining the Miami Pouch into a bag hooked on the side of the bed, which was more for convenience than anything. She wouldn’t have to bother with emptying it.

She smiled when I came, in, but it was one of those smiles that tells you in a gentle way that she’s going to be okay. We talked a little about her new reality, and though she was still in pain this morning, she was willing to get up and go for a walk with me. I had to unhook the pneumatic leggings from her lower legs, the ones that pulse to keep blood flowing while she is lying in bed. It was to help keep clots from forming.

We took a slow walk around the halls of 7C, and she did quite well. We didn’t go as far as we had in past walks, but this was the first time she was out of bed since the surgery.

I must have tired her out, because when we got back to the room, all she wanted to do was take another hit off the morphine pump, and take a nap. I hooked the leggings back up, made sure she was comfortable and I went out for a smoke.

When I got back up to the room, she was still sleeping, and I didn’t wake her. I took my seat and got to work on the crossword puzzle. It wasn’t long before the phone rang, and it was her brother Richard. She came to and talked with him for just a few minutes, but it was obvious she wasn’t in the mood to make small talk. I had called Ed and Nancy Schafer this morning with an update, and made a couple of more calls to some other friends, so I knew the word was getting spread around.

What I had learned this year, since we were so far from home, and there were so many of her friends who wanted to know what was going on with her, that I could be on the phone for almost as long a time as the surgery took, was to set up a telephone tree, for lack of a better term, and outside of family, I would just have to call a few select numbers, and they would then call Joanie’s other friends. It worked, and it was something I’d recommend to anyone in similar circumstances.

I asked her if there was anything she wanted, and the only thing she told me was she wanted to go home. She said it with slight smile, and added she didn’t want anything right now but some sleep. She hit the pump again and dozed off. I went to the Radisson for lunch.

When I got back, she was awake and we started to talk about what was going on. I wondered how she was feeling about what had happened, or more precisely, what didn’t happen. She told me she had been praying for a different outcome, and was disappointed but not surprised. Then she said something that surprised me, when she told me it wasn’t that we didn’t know what we were dealing with, having dealt with the ileostomy since February. I was beginning to believe that she was going to play the hand she’d been dealt better than I imagined she would.

I told her, the upside of this whole deal was what Dr. Carson reported, and that there was “no sign of recurrent disease at this point in time.”

While we were happy to hear that, and it gave us something to take away from the disappointment, the five words that stuck with me were, “…at this point in time.” Joanie didn’t pay any attention to them, she had heard all she needed to hear, and maybe I paid to much attention to them, but to me they were the cautionary words, words that we would hope to hear at the end of each clinic appointment during the coming years.

After we had tried to put a good face on this situation, I said maybe we should go for a walk. We got her ready, and made the rounds of the halls of 7C, feeling a little different than we had in the morning, and nurses who knew her from previous visits would stop her and give her a few words of encouragement. She liked that, and so did I.

Fridays, as I’ve noted before, were different days. Early in the morning, the lobby is full of people coming and going and going and coming, there was often some fellow playing the piano in one corner of the huge brightly lit, seating area, the line at lobby cart is full of nurses and doctors in scrubs, others in multi colored frocks and crocs, all waiting for a morning caffeine jolt.

Here and there were people like me, ones who had a loved one in some kind of distress, a husband, wife, child or relative all waiting for some kind of news, or just trying to pass the time as they stared out the floor to ceiling windows that made up the north wall of the lobby, until they went back up to the patient’s room. Taking a few minutes to get away from whatever uncertain, medical reality they were dealing with. Sitting there with nothing but their cup of coffee and their hopes.

By mid afternoon, when it came shift change time at the hospital, three-thirty, everything changed. In one door came the night shift, and out the other door would come the nurses, doctors, aides, interns and others who had been there since very early morning. There would always be a crowd of nurses and others waiting for a bus to take them to the other side of the river where another part of this huge medical complex was located, and shortly there would be a bus bringing back those who were done for the day.

I could feel the change as it happened. I was outside having a smoke, and watching it, as I was prone to do, and envying those who were leaving for the beginning of their weekend, which I imagined to be filled with all kinds of enjoyable things to do, far away from the disease and medical problems they had been dealing with. I wanted to join them.

Inside the huge lobby, it was all of a sudden quiet, quiet like it would be until Monday morning, when the business of health care and healing, would switch into high gear again.

That night, around ten o’clock when I left, the lights in Joanie’s room were off, except for the light above the head of the bed, which was just enough to make out her face. She looked at me and smiled, and told me she was going to handle this. I kissed her, said good night, and left sure in the knowledge she would, if anyone could.

As I walked through the darkened lobby that night, the same security guy I had come to know was on duty, and he looked up from his lamplit desk, and asked me how things were going.

I smiled, thanked him, and told him she is going to be just fine.

I went back to the Radisson for a night cap, and the bartender whom we had gotten to know from our trips down, and especially from earlier this year, I think his name was Manuel, or something like that. He was a pleasant, younger guy, and when I had lunch there during the week, was always waiting on me. I had introduced him to Al Olson one day when Al and I had lunch there, and he thought it was special that he had met a former governor.

I ordered a Bailey’s on the rocks, and when he set it up, he asked, “How’s your wife doing?” He had met Joanie on a couple of occasions, and he knew from talking to me she was having problems.

I told him the same thing I told the security guy, “She is going to be just fine.”


About Bob Kallberg

Retired reporter. Concentrating now on recounting Joanie's 12 year battle with cancer, a battle she waged with extreme courage, determination and an indomitable spirit, that, for me, serves as an example.
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